NFL Draft 2013: Cornerback Rankings, Draft Predictions and Analysis
The NFL draft is just a few weeks away, and now we're looking at one of the most crowded cornerback groups in recent years. After Dee Milliner, the consensus top player at the position, there is no real agreement about the rest of the order.
With today's pass-heavy NFL, cornerbacks have become increasingly valuable. And not just any cornerback either, but bigger, stronger, faster ones who can line up against the elite receivers like Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
But some defenses have been utilizing zone coverage schemes as well, in an attempt to counter spread offenses like the one Chip Kelly will try to implant in Philadelphia this season.
So there is a significant market for the taller guys who can press and jam a receiver at the line, but also for those shorter, instinctive ballhawks that can move well in space and are aggressive in their pursuit of a ball in the air.
We find both of those types of this list, and while comparing them is difficult in a sense, there are still some basic elements to all cornerbacks that can be valued equally.
For the record, Darius Slay and B.W. Webb are my next two highest ranked corners, There are a lot of quality players in this year's class.
Unique Injury Case: D.J. Hayden
I'm giving D.J. Hayden this special slide because he is a truly special case. Bleacher Report's talented injury specialist Dave Siebert wrote this tremendous article on Hayden last week, but I'll sum it up here for the sake of brevity with a scouting report.
Hayden essentially suffered an injury during a somewhat routine collision during practice this past November. He tore a vein that is responsible for bringing blood to the heart and really beat the odds to live, let alone come back and play football again.
But that is exactly what Hayden has done, and he could end up being the feel-good story of the league next year. Hayden is adequately sized at 5'11", but his movement skills are what really set him apart.
Hayden is extremely quick, with great hips and footwork that allow him to stay with any receiver. He closes on the ball well and can also turn and run on deep routes.
It is hard to project where Hayden will get drafted, because I'm not a medical expert myself, and I expect teams to have different ideas about just how valuable he is considering the risk involved. I think Hayden could go as high as the late first round, but also potentially slip into the third.
Without his injury, however, we could be talking about Hayden as a surefire first-round pick and one of the top two or three cornerbacks in this class. The upside is absolutely there with this kid.
Sleeper: Dwayne Gratz
Although overshadowed at his own position at UConn, Dwayne Gratz should not be overlooked by NFL teams looking for cornerbacks in the middle rounds of the draft. He has good height at 5'11" and a well-filled-out frame, weighing in at just over 200 lbs.
A three-year starter for the Huskies and two-time Second Team All-Big East selection, Gratz has NFL-caliber strength. He is an aggressive player who is not afraid to mix it up and can lay out receivers and running backs with big hits.
However, Gratz does not have very fluid hips and has just mediocre footwork, which sometimes gives him problems pursuing the ball in the air. He also can sometimes get overly aggressive and either whiff on tackles or be drawn out of position.
10. Blidi Wreh-Wilson
And here we have the man who has overshadowed Gratz on the Huskies. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is a little taller than Gratz and has long arms and a muscular frame that makes him effective in press coverage.
He looks every bit the part when doing drills at the Combine in shorts and a t-shirt, but he has some issues that keep him from being ranked higher. He isn't as fast or as strong as he seems and does not jump like you would hope a top corner would.
If he does not effectively jam a receiver at the line of scrimmage, a quick receiver will easily beat Wreh-Wilson. He doesn't react and change directions that well and seems to be a little too stiff when he lines up against good receivers.
But he does still show flashes of elite potential. He took two of his seven interceptions back for touchdowns during his career, and knows how to use his long arms and size to his advantage. He was named UConn's MVP in 2012. I expect him to get taken in the third round.
9. David Amerson
A year removed from one of the best college football seasons by a defensive back in ACC history, junior David Amerson finds himself a lot lower on draft boards than he probably anticipated.
After a massively disappointing season, Amerson's biggest sticking point is his height, athleticism, and incredible 2011 season when he snagged an ACC-record 13 interceptions and was one of the best defensive players in the country.
Standing at 6'1" with a long wingspan and solid 35.5 inch vertical, Amerson is dangerous when the ball is thrown in his area. He excels in off-coverage where he is given freedom to roam and pursue the ball.
But when he has to press and play man coverage, Amerson's flaws are evident. He isn't very quick, his backpedal can be slow, and his overall technique needs a lot of work. But his upside is high enough that he would still be a very solid third-round pick and could definitely go in the bottom half of the second round.
8. Jamar Taylor
Boise State has lost a bit of its mystique over the past year or two, but it still cranks out some quality players. Jamar Taylor looks ready to insert himself as one of their best prospects ever.
Taylor is a strong, physical cornerback who is ready and willing to lower his shoulder and try to lay out receivers or running backs coming his way. He is aggressive and nasty against the run and will never back down when tracking a receiver coming across the middle.
He isn't an elite athlete, and his technique in press coverage has been questioned. He sometimes gets lost on deeper routes and needs to improve his ball skills as well.
His aggressiveness can be useful, but also hurts him at times when he overpursues or falls for play action. If he can work on his technique and be more disciplined, a team may find themselves with a steal in the second round.
7. Robert Alford
Although he is not particularly intimidating physically, Robert Alford is as athletic as any corner in the draft. He had an outstanding combine and was among the best in the 40-yard dash (4.39), bench press (17 reps), vertical jump (40 inch) and broad jump (132 inch).
While Alford had already been mentioned as a mid-round sleeper before then, his stock really elevated when teams saw those eye-popping combine numbers.
Playing for Southeastern Louisiana, Alford didn't get much attention, but he was invited to the Senior Bowl, where he played well before impressing at the combine. On the field, Alford can get pushed around at times but is extremely quick and has great instincts.
His stature will make some teams shy away from him as a No. 1 corner, but he would be extremely valuable to a team who plays a lot of zone coverage.
6. Logan Ryan
Logan Ryan may be the most underrated cornerback in this class. He isn't incredibly tall, strong, or quick, but he's the kind of player who seems to be all over the field and is always creating havoc.
In his two years as a starter, Ryan had 161 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 30 pass breakups, seven interceptions and two forced fumbles while not missing a single game.
Ryan packs 191 lbs. of muscle on his 5'11" frame and is a willing hitter who loves to make a play on the ball. He has quick feet and fluid hips and is an instinctual player who could thrive in either a man or zone coverage scheme.
He is still somewhat raw as a cornerback, but if he finds a team that's willing to work with him, Ryan could be a big-time NFL player. He should be off the board by the middle of the third round, although I'd take him in the top 50.
5. Desmond Trufant
Desmond Trufant is a great player with a lot of upside, but he seems to be one of those "risers" who wasn't in the first-round discussion in January, then all of the sudden was being considered as the second cornerback off the board.
Don't get me wrong, because I think Trufant is an outstanding player who could go at the end of the first round, but I don't see him as a top-two or -three guy in this year's class.
Trufant has a great build and is a true quick-twitch athlete who can make plays in the air and covers guys on the outside well. He can sometimes get overmatched on press coverage, however, and his lack of strength is a little concerning to me.
A true ballhawk, Trufant can bait quarterbacks into making throws and suddenly change direction to go in and break up the pass. His coverage ability is as good as his tackling is bad, and that will keep him from going in the top half of the first round.
4. Jordan Poyer
I'll admit that I'm higher on Jordan Poyer than most, but I think he's a tremendous athlete who could play anywhere in the backfield, and in today's pass-happy NFL, that's a valuable trait.
Poyer committed to Oregon State to play both football and baseball and was drafted in the 42nd round of the MLB draft. But he decided to focus squarely on football upon arriving to school and seems to have made the right decision.
At 6'0", 191 lbs., Poyer has a great frame to go along with elite agility and lateral movement. His footwork is outstanding, and although he isn't over aggressive, he is a willing tackler who won't be a liability in the open field.
He was a team captain and consensus First-Team AP All-American. He could fit into any NFL team's scheme and play outside or as a nickel back given his athleticism and size.
There are questions about his strength and straight-line speed, which will probably prevent him from being a first-round pick, but he will make some team very happy as a second-rounder.
3. Johnthan Banks
After running a slow 4.61 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, a lot of people soured on Johnthan Banks, but I still think of him as a quality first-round pick.
Banks is an experienced, rangy playmaker who stands at 6'2" and excels in both press and zone coverage. He is especially good in press coverage, where he is adept at keeping receivers off their routes without resorting to holding.
He has good hips and footwork for his height and moves well in small spaces. His frame could use some more bulk; he would really benefit from adding a few more pounds to go against some stronger NFL receivers.
His upside isn't quite as high as some others on the list, as his straight-line speed could be a real issue when he has to cover speed guys. But he should still get first-round consideration, especially by teams in divisions with Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Larry Fitzgerald.
2. Xavier Rhodes
Xavier Rhodes may give up an inch to Johnthan Banks, but they have roughly the same wingspan and Rhodes has a remarkable 25 lbs. on Banks, which really gives him a leg up.
The redshirt junior started all three seasons at Florida State and is one of the top athletes in the entire draft. His explosive potential really shined through in the combine, where he jumped a 40.5-inch vertical and 132-inch broad.
But his quickness combined with impressive strength makes him ideal for press coverage on the outside and lining up against big, athletic tight ends.
His ability to play on the outside, against tight ends and possibly as a safety makes him extremely valuable to teams, and it would be surprising if he wasn't the second cornerback off the board.
1. Dee Milliner
Dee Milliner, last year's leader in passes defended, has been firmly atop the cornerback rankings for a few months now, and rightly so.
Any questions people previously had about his top ranking were silenced with his 4.37 40-yard dash at the combine. The first team All-America selection was actually a standout all three years he played at Alabama but was overshadowed by all the talent that the Crimson Tide has produced during that time.
The junior has ideal height, length, bulk, quickness and strength to be a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. He also possesses great instincts and an aggressive nature that leads him to being smack in the middle of a ton of plays.
He can jump and go up and outmuscle bigger receivers but also has the ability to turn and run with the speedsters. The major knock on him is that he played on an outstanding defense during college and will have to step up to heightened responsibility as a pro.
But Milliner should be more than capable of rising to anything literally or figuratively thrown his way and will be a top-10 selection in a few weeks.